InnoTown's creativity_ intimacy_ and passion set it apart from the by zhouwenjuan




           creativity, intimacy,
              and passion
            set it apart from
          the other ‘bloodless’
           meetings out there.
               BY ANDREA DOYLE
                               FULFILLING A DREAM:
                           InnoTown founders, Dag
                          Lausund (left), and Cecilie
                        With (right), quit stable jobs
                        to create a conference that
                        would be a far cry from the
                           run-of-the-mill ones they
                                     had attended in
                                             the past.

NET   pcma convene February 2008         61
                                                                                                         EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED,
                                                                                                         IT’S INNOTOWN:
                                                                                                         Snapshots from an event
                                                                                                         designed to surprise and
                                                                                                         delight attendees —
                                                                                                         from the hosts, to the
                                                                                                         entertainment, receptions,
                                                                                                         and setting. This entire
                                                                                                         conference is focused
                                                                                                         on moving minds,
                                                                                                         both rationally and

“Business not as usual.”                                         “To make something work, you must live and breathe what
                                                                 you are doing. We both took a plunge into the unknown cre-
It’s a tagline InnoTown makes good on. Held on the edge          ating InnoTown, a plunge with a big splash,” said With.
of Norway’s fjords in Alesund, a picturesque town with cob-          Today, the two handle all the logistics of the conference
blestone streets and quaint buildings, InnoTown brings           themselves. They do the marketing, write the content, create
together businesspeople, artists, musicians, and designers       the visuals, do the bookkeeping. When it comes to booking
from around the globe. Their animated conversation spills        speakers, With takes over. “She is a master at getting them
out onto the street and into the cafes.                          to say ‘yes,’” said Lausund. “That’s with the help of the mate-
    “We facilitate a meeting place to move minds,” said          rials Dag creates,” she said, giving her co-founder credit as
Cecilie With, who founded InnoTown with Dag Lausund.             well. When the two interact, it becomes apparent why they
“We quit our good management jobs to pursue this little          make such a successful team.
thought baby of ours,” she said. They both worked for
Stokke, a Norwegian furniture producer; Lausund as a mar-        An Experience, Not a Conference
keting manager and With, a sales manager.                        A performance artist doing acrobatics while in a huge bal-
    “While we were with Stokke, we spent a lot of time sit-      loon ... a troupe of “cavemen” making music with tire rims
ting in airports. We spent this downtime thinking about what     and the slamming of car doors ... a dance troupe engaged
we’d do if we could do what we wanted as free spirits. That’s    in entrancing moves — all set to the beat of pulsating rock
how the idea for InnoTown came about,” With said.                n’ roll. Always different, these are the types of “acts” atten-
    “We also spent hours and hours in meetings that were         dees experience between sessions.
all more or less the same. We were as bored as most people,”         “All these gigs are really unusual for the main reason we
added Lausund. “We decided we would add something, make          want people to say ‘wow’ and realize they are experiencing
InnoTown an experience, create involvement. Attendees            something they haven’t experienced before. When people are
would not just sit there and listen.”                            surprised in a positive way they look to each other and ask,
    The two quit their jobs with Stokke to concentrate on giv-   ‘Did you see that?’ These are actually networking and dia-
ing birth to InnoTown. The first conference was held in 2000.     logue enhancers,” said With. “We make sure InnoTown

62     pcma convene February 2008                                                                      
                                                                “TO MAKE SOMETHING WORK,
                                                                YOU MUST LIVE AND BREATHE
                                                                WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
                                                                WE BOTH TOOK A PLUNGE INTO
                                                                THE UNKNOWN CREATING
                                                                INNOTOWN, A PLUNGE WITH
                                                                A BIG SPLASH.”

                                                                 to another. “We don’t want to waste time putting people onto
                                                                 buses,” said With. “Plus, we think moving people from place
                                                                 to place will break up the good mood.”
                                                                    The conference spans over three days. It is kicked off with
                                                                 a casual party held in an out-of-the-ordinary spot. A factory,
                                                                 museum, and an aquarium have been used in the past. “We
                                                                 have eclectic foods and good wines. It’s not a dress-up ban-
                                                                 quet. Just the opposite; it’s about togetherness,”said With.
                                                                    Around 40 local residents serve as InnoTown hosts and
                                                                 hostesses and are dressed in custom-made costumes that vary
                                                                 from year to year. Like the entire experience, even they have
                                                                 an eclectic twist. Last year, their ears were purple.
                                                                    They interact with the attendees, and live and breathe
                                                                 InnoTown personality, said With. Two full days of presen-
                                                                 tations are interspersed with artistic performances.
appeals to the rational part of the brain as well as the emo-
tional part. By including surprises that are emotional           Keeping It Intimate
enhancers, we make InnoTown a hugely stimulating place           When InnoTown started, it was attended by 200. The 2007
where they can boil their heads and warm their hearts.”          conference include 550 attendees — a full house, according
   The emotional element of the conference is most impor-        to the two. “Our goal is not to have thousands of people in
tant, said Lausund. “People don’t necessarily attend con-        attendance. We want to keep it intimate,” said Lausund.
ferences to learn something specific. If you are looking to      Approximately 35 percent are from the same companies year
learn something, you are probably better off using a book or     after year although they send different employees. “We’ve
the Internet,” he said. “We motivate people to move forward      also found that we started out attracting medium-level deci-
without relying on a safety net.”                                sion makers but they have gone back and insisted that their
                                                                 CEOs and directors attend,” said Lausund. “InnoTown has
Mixing It Up                                                     been a life-changing experience for many. It has changed
One of the keys to InnoTown’s success has been the diversity     the way they look at everything. We’ve heard from a few that
of its attendees. They come from across borders, across          have gone back and quit their jobs [to start something new].”
trades, across professions — all with different perspectives        With and Lausund are exploring the possibility of creat-
on innovation and creativity.                                    ing InnoTown satellites in the future. Both have traveled to
   “From year one, we were aiming to attract international       Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, two of the most
attendees. We were not looking to be just a local or regional    likely places to export an InnoTown conference.
event,” said Lausund. InnoTown 2007 attracted attendees
from 26 different countries.                                     Taking Chances on Speakers
   The setting — one of the most postcard-perfect towns in       Diverse is the best word to describe the 10 speakers who pres-
Norway — is key to InnoTown’s success. Alesund’s quaint          ent at InnoTown each year. The 2007 roster of speakers
buildings, towering mountains, and waterfront also happen        included Ken Schmidt of Harley-Davidson; Dasho Karma
to be where With and Lausund and their families call home.       Ura, director for Bhutan Studies (whose Himalayan king-
The intimate town enables people to stroll from one venue        dom’s intriguing development philosophy is “Gross National                                                                             pcma convene February 2008         63
Happiness”); Spencer Wells, population geneticist and direc-
tor, The Genographic Project; and Lyn Heward, former pres-
                                                                           “WE LOOK FOR SPEAKERS WHO
ident of creative content, Cirque du Soleil.
    With and Lausund spend a minimum of four months                        ARE REALLY FRESH AND NEW.
researching potential speakers. “We look for people who are
really fresh and new. Sometimes we have to take chances. We
can’t run them through a ‘100 percent quality control check’
                                                                           SOMETIMES WE HAVE TO
because we sometimes pick people who have hardly ever spo-
ken to groups before. One thing we will never do is just call              TAKE CHANCES. WE CAN’T RUN
speakers bureaus and get the speakers they represent. That
would be just too predictable,” said Lausund.
    They search for people who are at the very top of their
                                                                           THEM THROUGH A ‘100
respective profession. After they’ve identified these people,
they have to create the optimal blend. The lineup is usually               PERCENT QUALITY CONTROL
quirky. “We’ve had a CEO, ballet dancer, artist, and astro-
naut all speak at one conference,” With said with a chuckle.               CHECK.’ WE WILL NEVER JUST
Each speaker is given the stage for 40 minutes.
    One of the best received presenters was Benjamin Zander,
conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra since its                   CALL A SPEAKERS BUREAU.”
formation 25 years ago. When he was contacted about pre-
senting at InnoTown, he had little experience speaking to
groups outside his profession.                                                    This is the kind of presentation that makes InnoTown
    Lausund and With hired six classical musicians to be used in              unique. Speakers who share data, especially those who hide
conjunction with his presentation. “He demonstrated how a                     behind their PowerPoint presentation, will not cut it. Of Inno-
team can make itself better by each member improving his or                   Town’s top 10-rated speakers based on attendee feedback,
her own personal skills. He managed to bring out the best in                  not one used a PowerPoint ... but they all shared a passion.
each and every one of the six musicians by inspiring each one                     It’s all about telling stories. It’s all about ideas. Another
while on stage to change a little bit of attitude when they went              well-received speaker was Ricardo Semler, CEO of Brazilian-
about their musical contribution. The audience could hear a dis-              based Semco who has some very untraditional leadership
tinct difference in the music from when they got on stage to when             methods. For 25 years, he has let his employees set their own
the session was over,” Lausund said. The audience had a tan-                  hours, wages, and even choose their own bosses. The result:
gible, sensory connection to Zander.                                          increased productivity, long-term loyalty, and phenomenal
                                                                                                    growth. It’s just this type of “renegade”
                                                                                                    thinking that strikes a chord with Inno-
                                                                                                    Town attendees.
Inspiring Your Attendees,                                                                               Most speakers stay for the entire con-
                                                                                                    ference, taking part in the sessions as well
InnoTown-style                                                                                      as the social functions. “What we can’t pay
Here are a few elements that Cecilie With and Dag Lausund have made part of the                     in fees, we give back in experience. Heck!
InnoTown culture.                                                                                   Some don’t want to leave. We almost had
   Leave the suits and ties at home. Dressed casually, people are more relaxed.                     to kick Edward de Bono [a leading author-
That is just the state InnoTown is striving for.                                                    ity on creative thinking] out of town,”
   Keep event venues within walking distance of each other. With and                                chuckled With. “That is what differenti-
Lausund find the intimate setting keeps the mood flowing.                                             ates us from other conferences. Our speak-
   Engage all the senses. InnoTown attendees are treated to unique performance                      ers and contributors linger on.”
art between sessions, which serve as networking and dialogue enhancers.                                 Polly LaBarre, a member of the origi-
   Include elements of surprise. This will keep the group guessing what is next.                    nal team of Fast Company and co-author
   The emotional element of the meeting is most important. “People don’t                            of the book Mavericks at Work: Why the
necessarily attend conferences to learn something specific,” according to Lausund. “If               Most Original Minds in Business Win, is
you are looking to learn something, you are probably better off using a book or the Inter-          another speaker who found it hard to
net,” he said. “We motivate people to move forward without relying on a safety net.”                leave InnoTown. “The level of intimacy,
   Attract a diverse audience. Last year, attendees from 26 countries who cut a
                                                                                                    connection, and genuine passion sets
                                                                                                    InnoTown apart from the countless,
broad swath across professions, flocked to InnoTown to share their unique perspectives.
                                                                                                    bloodless corporate events I’ve been to
   Line up eclectic speakers. Lausund and With look for speakers who are com-
                                                                                                    over the years,” she said. I
pelling, fresh, and new; at the top of their “game.” And they mix it up: One conference
had a CEO, ballet dancer, artist, and astronaut present.
                                                                                                    Andrea Doyle is Convene’s senior writer. This arti-
   Immerse the group in the destination. Without a doubt, the idyllic setting is a big           cle was sponsored by the Irving, Texas Convention
part of the InnoTown experience. But there’s no reason why any meeting couldn’t incorpo-         and Visitors Bureau ( as an
rate the host city’s local flavor into its program. At InnoTown, 40 local residents serve as      example of an innovative meeting. Look for Irving to
                                                                                                 sponsor more creative meeting articles in upcoming
hosts and hostesses, dressed in custom-made costumes that vary from year to year.                issues of Convene.

64      pcma convene February 2008                                                                                        

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